PASTOR COLUMN - Sacrifical love is always in season

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Years ago, I hosted a slumber party for my niece and nephews. There were wrestling matches, snacks and times we laughed so hard our eyes watered and we couldn't catch our breath. Good times made even richer in hindsight.

At the time, we were landscaping in our backyard, so there was plenty of opportunity for the 4-year-old to get dirty, and for his big brother to keep a protective eye on him, as he had since birth. They were "best buddies" and almost inseparable.

The 4-year-old would often wake up crying at night with growing pains in his legs. My sister had warned me and said the only thing that helped was to rub his knees and legs until he fell asleep again.

My niece was the first to drop off to sleep, and then the two boys. Sometime late at night, I got up for a drink of water and I noticed my older nephew and his little brother had moved from the guest room to the recliner in the dark living room. I stepped quietly into the room and heard his groggy voice, "Hi."

"Hi, Buddy," I responded, "What are you doing out here? Bed not comfortable?" Big brother replied, "He woke up and got a little scared. This is his first time away from Mom and Dad, and his legs were hurting. So, I brought him out here with me and he's sleeping again."

"Do you want me to stay here with him and you can go in to sleep?" I asked.

"No, I'm OK. I'll stay with him in case he wakes up again. I don't want him to get scared," he said.

"Ok, Buddy. Please come get me if you need me, I'm happy to stay with him," I offered, but he assured me he was fine.

A couple hours later I headed back to the living room. No kids. I looked in the guest room and saw big brother lying on the bed, little brother sprawled crosswise over his chest.

"Hi, Aunt Mikki," my older nephew said

"Buddy, are you sure you don't want me to take over? It doesn't look like your little brother is giving you much a chance to sleep tonight," I said.

"It's OK, Aunt Mikki. If I'm with him, he isn't scared when he wakes up and I can rub his legs for him so he goes to sleep again," he said.

Next morning, little brother was happy, energetic and blissfully unaware of his brother's sacrifice. When his brother came out of the room, he looked like he hadn't slept at all, but he smiled, rubbed his little brother's head and asked, "What's for breakfast?"

I was touched by the selfless love of a protective big brother willing to sacrifice rest and comfort to be his brother's keeper.

I hadn't thought of it for years, but God brought it to me as I was praying about this new year and asking him to show me what was most important as we look to the future.

Sacrificial love, in all forms.

The memory reminds me of a promise God made his children in Deuteronomy 31:8, "Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you."

The New Testament tells how his son Jesus gladly came from a place of peace and comfort to be with us, show us how to live and sacrifice himself for us. Jesus exemplified what it means to be his "brother's keeper" and the priceless value of that. It is a poignant reminder that anyone can give an expensive gift, but only those who've sacrificed can give a gift of value.

"For God loved the world in this way: so much that he would give up his son, the only one, so that everyone who trusts in him shall not be lost, but he shall have eternal life," John 3:16 .

The Christmas celebrations and New Year's parties are gone. Most of us are revisiting the events of last year and anticipating what will happen in 2012. It's a season many of us take stock of where we are, asking if we accomplished all we'd hoped last year, and how we're doing in different areas of our lives and if we've done everything possible to lay aside anything that hinders us from being everything God has destined us to be.

Even if we're doing well and enjoying the peace, joy and acceptance of God, we may need a reminder of how to step into a new season of life.

"Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus," Philippians 3:12-14.

Looking back with a thankful heart and forward with a sense of adventure, what do we see? In the midst of the forward momentum that can seem to take on a life of its own, I believe we are called to press the pause button.

As we're filling out our calendars, we need to ask ourselves if we've made sure to schedule a time to look into our own hearts and minds, to measure where we stand.

Who are we when there is no one else around?

What is our character like when we are faced with crisis or with great blessing?

Have we been willing to do difficult things because they're the right things? Have we taken time to really enjoy the goodness of God and thank him for the richness of our lives? Being a Christian involves more than just saying we love God, it also means demonstrating God's love to others. "Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did," 1 John 2:6.

Are we seeing the golden opportunities we have to say "No" to ourselves so we can say "Yes" for someone else's benefit?

There is something inside each of us that longs to be a hero. To be the one to offer strength, encouragement, peace and comfort to someone else. The hero that comes alongside someone else when they desperately need a friend or help. Our hearts long to be the one who makes a difference.

We've recently witnessed this kind of sacrificial love through the life of the late Rob Carter of Milton-Freewater. "There is no greater love than this: that a person would lay down his life for the sake of his friends," John 15:13. And as a community we hold up Rob's family and friends in our prayers. We thank him and them for showing us what selfless love looks like. No words could ever express our profound sorrow and our gratitude to his family and friends. As we look to this new year as an exciting new beginning, we need to ask God to fill us with the understanding of his sacrificial love. There is only one way for us to get it, though. We will be given opportunities to love sacrificially. Opportunities to take the high road and do the right thing, even if it's not popular.

Opportunities to lay down our lives or the comfort of our own choices for the good of another. We'll all have opportunities to be someone's hero. Will we do it?

The Rev. Mikki Jones co-pastors Grace Christian Center with her husband, the Rev. Dave Jones. Pastors in the U-B circulation area who want to write a column should call Catherine Hicks at 509-526-8312 or email her at catherinehicks@wwub.com.

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